Scotland | History, Capital, Map, Flag, Population, & Facts | Britannica

Scotland | history, capital, map, flag, population, & facts

Scotland, most northerly of the four parts of the United Kingdom, occupying about one-third of the island of Great Britain. The name Scotland derives from the Latin Scotia, land of the Scots, a Celtic people from Ireland who settled on the west coast of Great Britain about the 5th century CE. The name Caledonia has often been applied to Scotland, especially in poetry. It is derived from Caledonii, the Roman name of a tribe in the northern part of what is now Scotland.

An austere land, subject to extremes of weather, Scotland has proved a difficult home for countless generations of its people, who have nonetheless prized it for its beauty and unique culture. “I am a Scotsman,” the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott wrote in the 19th century; “therefore I had to fight my way into the world.” Historically one of Europe’s poorest countries, Scotland has contributed much to political and practical theories of progress: forged in the Scottish Enlightenment in the hands of such philosophers as Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and David Hume, who viewed humankind as a product of history and the “pursuit of happiness” as an inalienable right, this progressive ideal contributed substantially to the development of modern democracy. Scots have also played a vital role in many of the world’s most important scientific and technological innovations, with inventors, engineers, and entrepreneurs such as Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt, Andrew Carnegie, and John McAdam extending Scotland’s reach far beyond the small country’s borders. Few students of English-language literature are unacquainted with historian Thomas Carlyle, poet Robert Burns, and novelist Muriel Spark.

Scotland’s relations with England, with which it was merged in 1707 to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain, have long been difficult. Although profoundly influenced by the English, Scotland has long refused to consider itself as anything other than a separate country, and it has bound itself to historical fact and legend alike in an effort to retain national identity, as well as to the distinct dialect of English called Scots; writing defiantly of his country’s status, the nationalist poet Hugh MacDiarmid proclaimed: “For we ha’e faith in Scotland’s hidden poo’ers, The present’s theirs, but a’ the past and future’s oors.” That independent spirit bore fruit in 1996, when the highly symbolic Stone of Scone was returned to Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, from London, and in 1999 a new Scottish Parliament—the first since 1707—was elected and given significant powers over Scottish affairs.

Edinburgh is a handsome city of great historical significance and one of Europe’s chief cultural centres. Other significant principal cities include Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Perth, all centres for industry, transportation, and commerce.

Hardworking, practical, and proud of their traditions, the Scots have a reputation for thrift that verges on miserliness. Travelers to the country, however, often remark on the generosity and friendliness of their hosts, as well as on the vibrancy of contemporary Scottish culture. An ancient Gaelic song, a blessing on cattle and the people who keep them, speaks to that hospitality in a sometimes inhospitable landscape:

Pastures smooth, long, and spreading,

Grassy meads aneath your feet,

The friendship of God the Son to bring you home

To the field of the fountains,

Field of the fountains.

Closed be every pit to you,

Smoothed be every knoll to you,

Cosy every exposure to you,

Beside the cold mountains,

Beside the cold mountains.

Scotland is bounded by England to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and north, and the North Sea to the east. The west coast is fringed by deep indentations (sea lochs or fjords) and by numerous islands, varying in size from mere rocks to the large landmasses of Lewis and Harris, Skye, and Mull. The island clusters of Orkney and Shetland lie to the north. At its greatest length, measured from Cape Wrath to the Mull of Galloway, the mainland of Scotland extends 274 miles (441 km), while the maximum breadth—measured from Applecross, in the western Highlands, to Buchan Ness, in the eastern Grampian Mountains—is 154 miles (248 km). But, because of the deep penetration of the sea in the sea lochs and firths (estuaries), most places are within 40 to 50 miles (65 to 80 km) of the sea, and only 30 miles (50 km) of land separate the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth, the two great estuarine inlets on the west and east coasts, respectively.


James VI’s son, Charles I, was raised in England and lacked any understanding of his Scottish subjects and their institutions. He soon fell foul of a restless nobility in a Scotland that lacked the natural focal point of a royal court. The king also caused widespread anger by high taxation, by the special demands made on Edinburgh to build a Parliament House and to provide a cathedral for the bishopric founded there in 1633, and by a Spanish war and a French war that were intended to further English diplomacy but meanwhile disrupted Scottish trading ties. The aristocratic leaders of the opposition found ideal material on which to build clerical and popular support. Charles and his Scottish bishops were fond enough of ritual and splendour in church services to make plausible the (wholly incorrect) suggestion that they were ready for compromise with Rome. The new Book of Canons (1635–36) and Liturgy (1637) therefore offended by their content, as well as by being authorized by royal prerogative alone. The National Covenant (1638) astutely collected national support for the opposition’s pledge to resist Charles’s innovations. Condemnation of popery was written into it for the benefit of those who feared that Charles might be a crypto-Catholic; others, more sophisticated, welcomed its implicit condemnation of a royal arbitrariness with religion and private rights that was contrary to all Scottish precedent.

The Covenanters humbled Charles in two almost bloodless campaigns, the Bishops’ Wars (1639–40), leaving him with no alternative but to ask for money from an English Parliament in which his opponents were strongly represented. Charles had authorized a general assembly of the Scottish church (1638) and a Scottish Parliament (1639); the Covenanters packed these meetings, scrapped all the king’s innovations, and abolished episcopacy. Thus, by 1641 there was a revolutionary situation in both kingdoms, and in August 1642 war broke out between Charles and his English opponents. Both sides sought Scottish help, which was soon accorded to the English parliamentary opposition. By the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) the English promised, in return for military aid, to help preserve government by the Presbyterian church in Scotland and, so at least the Scots believed, to set it up in England. James Graham, 1st marquess of Montrose, and others who then left the Covenanting side argued that by this second Covenant, and by certain constitutional constraints they had placed upon the crown, the Scots had gone unwarrantably far beyond the aims of the first Covenant. But those Scots who were prepared to make common cause with the English opposition, even if the English did have a more deep-seated quarrel with their king than the Scots, had reasoned justification, for it was realistic to expect that Charles, as soon as it proved possible, would withdraw concessions made to men whom he regarded as his enemies.

Personal antipathies also helped to split the ranks of the original Covenanters—notably the antipathy between Montrose and Archibald Campbell, 1st marquess of Argyll, who was sincerely devoted to the cause but equally devoted to the advancement of his family. Montrose’s military efforts for Charles in Scotland were crushed in 1645, and by 1646 Charles had also lost the war in England. When Charles surrendered to the Scottish army in England, the Scots failed to reach agreement with him and handed him over to the English.

The Scottish contribution to the English war effort had been substantial but not spectacular enough to leave a sense of obligation, and the English army under Oliver Cromwell, who now eclipsed Parliament in English politics, preferred Independency to Presbyterianism in the church and did not propose to honour the Solemn League and Covenant. A conservative element among the Covenanters in 1647 reached a compromise, or “Engagement,” with Charles by which they promised him help in return for the establishment of Presbyterianism in both kingdoms for three years and went to war on his behalf; their ill-planned campaign was crushed at Preston in 1648. The clerics, who had bitterly opposed this compromise, were now able, under the leadership of a few nobles such as Argyll, to purge the Scottish Parliament and army of all those tainted by collaboration with the king. The execution of Charles by the English in 1649 genuinely shocked most Scots, who were prepared to fight for his son, Charles II, once he had been constrained to accept the Covenants and once Montrose had been executed (1650). Cromwell’s victory over the Scots at Dunbar (1650) gave more-moderate Scots the ascendancy again, but this brought no better military result. Another, and decisive, defeat at Cromwell’s hands came to a Scottish royalist army at Worcester in 1651.

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